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Best car bike racks: transport your bike by car safely and securely

Best car bike racks
(Image credit: Yakima)

The best car bike racks for you will depend on a number of factors: your car type, the type and quantity of bikes you want to carry, and of course, your budget.

Whether you’re transporting your bike to a local race or on a riding road trip, being able to carry your bike outside the car not only leaves space for passengers but also means you don’t have to put a greasy, road-grime-covered bike back in your car after a ride. There are a wide variety of car bike racks designed to carry your bike, some being semi-permanent installations such as roof- and hitch racks while others like trunk/boot racks and tailgate pads can be easily removed and stored when not in use. 

Many riders will spend big money to get the best road bikes and components, and then risk damaging it by using a cheap bike rack that fails to secure it properly or clamps the carbon frame badly. Our roundup below will go some way to preventing that from happening.

Best hitch mounted car bike racks 

If your car has a tow ball / hitch, and you want to carry your bike at the rear of your car, the best car bike rack for you is likely to be of the tow- or hitch-mounted variety.

Tow ball- or hitch-mounted car bike racks take advantage of the 1 1/4in or 2in receiver tube or tow ball on the back of your car and are the easiest to load of the bunch. Some hitch-mount racks will fold up and out of the way when not in use and many feature locks, not only for your bikes but also for securing the rack to the vehicle. They often fold for storage and feature a tilt or swing release so you can get into the back of your car without having to remove the bikes. 

Unfortunately, hitch and tow ball car bike racks start out at the higher end of the price spectrum and as you add in features like built-in locks, lightweight materials, integrated repair stands, and tail lights, the price continues to climb. Keep in mind that hitch racks also extend the length of your car considerably, so when you stop for a post-ride burrito take extra care backing up. 

Before you buy a hitch rack, make sure to double-check your local laws and regulations. In Australia for example, if the rack obscures your license plate, you’ll need an official accessory plate from the RTA, and your rack will also need to illuminate the plate so it can be seen from at least 20m away in poor light conditions.

In the eyes of the law, the classic photocopy or piece of cardboard with your plate number scribbled in sharpie will earn you a hefty fine and a stern talking-to from the boys and girls in blue. That’s not all; you may also cop a fine for driving around with an empty hitch rack on the back of your car — the moral of the story is do your due diligence before you buy a hitch or towbar rack so you don't have a run-in with the 5-0.

(Image credit: Thule)

Thule T2 Pro XT

The best hitch receiver car bike rack we've ever used

Type: Hitch | Style: wheel Mount

Remote tilt release 
Tool-free install

The Thule T2 Pr XT is so well designed a few other brands have borrowed - read copied - some of its design features like the remote tilt release handle and tool-free mounting system. 

It comes stock with trays for two bikes, however, it can be extended with another two trays. Bikes are secured with an extendable half-wheel hook design and a simple ratchet strap at the rear; it will work with just about any wheel size and tyres up to 5" in width. 

For the latest version, Thule has increased the spacing of the wheel trays and increased lateral adjustment to help fit a wider variety of bikes.

(Image credit: Kuat)

Kuat NV 2.0

The most feature-rich hitch rack you can buy

Type: Hitch | Style: Wheel mount

Integrated workstand
Holds a wide range of bikes
Difficult to put together

Kuat makes some of the best-looking car bike racks on the market. It uses a half-wheel loop design similar to the Thule Pro XT as well as a ratchet strap meaning it can accommodate a range of wheel sizes and tyres of up to 4.8" in width. The wheel cradles are adjustable to avoid bikes bumping into each other on the rack and there are removable cable locks. 

The installation process is tool-free and an expanding adaptor takes up space in your car's hitch receiver to eliminate wobbles. The tilt switch can be engaged hands-free and there is even a brilliant bike repair stand built-in for adjustments and repairs.

Best car bike racks: Yakima FoldClick 2

(Image credit: Yakima)

Yakima FoldClick 2

Lightweight, stowable and painless to install

Type: Hitch | Style: Arm and frame clamp

Lightweight and easy to install
E-bike rated
Wheel trails not adjustable
Arms can be awkward to use with non-traditional frames

Yakima’s FolkClick car bike rack (called the OnRamp in North America) utilises the towbar instead of the hitch receiver and has a surprisingly high weight limit — you can easily carry two e-bikes and still have weight left over. Not only is the rack quick and easy the install but it weighs just 14kg. The big selling point here, however, is its ability to quickly fold away, not to mention the inclusion of a ramp to help you get your bike in place come loading time.

Its design features two wheel-trays as well as arms and clamps to grab onto your bike's frame. A foot pedal unclips the base of the rack to tilt it out of the way so you can quickly get into your trunk. The setup also includes a locking system for both the bikes and rack itself.

Best roof mounted car bike racks

Most roof racks attach to crossbars, which can range from the square factory rails that some cars come with, to sleek aerodynamic bars from aftermarket brands; other racks use suction cups to vacuum seal a rack to your roof.

Bikes are then secured to the roof using the frame, front wheel or front axle. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages; however, the key thing to consider is will you be able to lift your bike onto the roof in the first place. If you’re driving a tall SUV, consider a hitch or towbar car bike rack, as getting heavy bikes onto the roof can be precarious. Wheel-off racks will lighten the load a bit and take away some of the height you’d otherwise have to conquer, however, if you will be carrying bikes that have various axles standards and hub spacing they can be fiddly. There are quite a few roof racks that grab onto the downtube; however, we would tend to steer away from this style as they can scratch your paintwork and, in the worst case, crush the frame. 

Wheel-on roof-mounted car bike racks are great if you’re transporting bikes with various hub and axle standards. They don't touch the frame but they are a bit less stable, more expensive and require you to lift the bike higher. 

Bikes on the roof are generally safer from other drivers should you get into a fender bender, just don’t forget they are up there when you drive into a multi-storey car park, or get home and drive into your garage. 

(Image credit: Yakima)

Yakima HighRoad

Best roof-mounted car bike rack for those who are transporting both MTBs and road bikes

Type: Roof | Style: Wheel on

Ease of use
Doesn't play nice with mudguards

The Yakima HighRoad is currently on the roof of this writer's car and is one of our favourite car bike racks because it doesn’t touch the frame at any point and is compatible with 26- to 29-inch wheels regardless of axle standard. It’s one of the easiest and intuitive roof racks to use, provided your car isn’t too tall.

There is no faffing with adaptors and you don’t even need to adjust the front wheel loop to suit different wheel sizes. The rack holds bikes securely even if your trip to the trailhead involves some Overlanding and it's not an eyesore either come to think of it

The HighRoad is nearly perfect but could do with a set of locking barrels and be more accommodating when it comes to mudguards.

  (Image credit: Rocky Mounts)

RockyMounts TomaHawk

Wheel-on rack compatible with bikes of any size

Type: Roof | Style: Wheel on

Compatible almost all bikes
No frame contact
Dual ratchet straps
Full coverage fenders will need to be removed

Hailing from Colorado, the RockyMounts TomaHawk is a roof-mounted tray that utilises a front-wheel hook to secure the bike. A wheel wicket helps balance the bike once it's in the tray while dual ratchet straps and a hook lock everything down.

The rack itself will work with any crossbar and can carry bikes from the best folding bikes up to a 29er fat bike with 5in wide rubber. 

The RockyMounts TomaHawk and all of its parts are backed by a lifetime warranty.

(Image credit: Thule)

Thule ThruRide

Best car bike rack for short riders or those with tall vehicles

Type: Roof | Style: Fork mount

Low profile 
No adaptors to keep track of
Changing axle size takes some practice

Axle-mounted car bike racks make attaching bikes on the roof a bit easier because you don’t have to lift the bike quite as high, and without the front wheel they are a bit lighter too. The trouble is, various axle- and hub-spacing standards can mean lots of adaptors to change...or lose. 

The ThruRide uses an adjustable clamp that can hold an axle regardless of length and diameter and doesn't need any adaptors. It takes a bit of practice to get the process down but once you do, it's a breeze and mounting the rack itself to the car is a tool-free affair. 

The rack itself is aerodynamic and low profile too; once it's on your car you're likely to forget it's there, which means you don't really need to take it off during the day. 

Best trunk mounted car bike racks 

Trunk and boot racks attach to the back of your car using straps, with feet stabilising the whole thing against the car. They are the lightest and least expensive options and also the least secure.

With trunk/boot racks, installing the rack correctly is paramount as if you don’t have something in the right place or pulled tautly, it can damage your paintwork. These work best with bikes that have more traditional double triangle construction and can be an awkward fit for sloping top-tube-style full-suspension mountain bikes. 

Best car bike racks: Saris Bones 2-Bike

(Image credit: Saris)

Saris Bones 2-Bike

Timeless design that still holds up and isn't an eyesore

Type: Trunk/Boot | Style: Top tube

Seatpost strap 
Curved arm separates bikes
Nothing to secure the front wheel 
Can't be locked to vehicle

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That is the mantra Saris has used with its Bones 2-Bike trunk/boot car bike rack. The design was first introduced in 1996 and hasn't changed all that much since.

It's available in two- and three-bike versions and is made from 100 per cent recyclable materials and everything from the articulating feet to the arms are adjustable to make the rack fit onto just about any car — including those with small spoilers. 

The arm that supports the bikes is curved which provides extra clearance, and the seatpost strap prevents the bikes from wobbling around too much when everything is mounted. Unfortunately, the front wheel is still free to move around, although this is something that even the best car bike racks of this style fail to efficiently address.

Best car bike racks: Thule RaceWay 3 992

(Image credit: Thule)

Thule RaceWay 3 992

The most affordable, intuitive three-bike rack system available

Type: Trunk/Boot | Style: Top tube

Intuitive hook system
Room for three bikes
Can be locked to the car

Using a series of ratcheting locking cables to secure the rack to your car, the RaceWay rack is easy on paint jobs, and the built-in Fit Dial system makes sure once the rack is mounted, it's not going anywhere. Unlike most of these trunk/boot-style racks, the RaceWay 3 can actually be locked to the car. 

It will hold three bikes using a top-tube mount that Thule calls Road Damping cradles to protect your frame from bumps. The rack also utilises a 'NoSway cages' which prevent the bikes from knocking into one another as you’re cruising down the road. The cages are also fully adjustable for bikes of every size.